A very rare case where the remake is SIGNIFICANTLY better than the original

The Quiet Family–B-

The Happiness of the Katakuris (previously reviewed)–A+

The editor of Influx knows that one of my all-time favorite international films is the brilliant Japanese comedy The Happiness of the Katakuris.  I previously reviewed it and have recommended it to all my friends.  It’s a wonderfully strange concoction from Takashi Miike–the Japanese director who seems quite adept in many genres.  The film is a wacky fantasy musical–complete with dancing zombies, significant portions done in claymation as well as a Japanese man who claims to be Queen Elizabeth’s unknown child who ALSO works for the CIA!  It’s strange beyond belief, but it also manages to be a heartfelt family movie that strongly advocates traditional values…and LOTS of accidental deaths.  Imagine my surprise, then, when he told me that this film is NOT an original but was first made in South Korea as The Quiet Family!  Naturally I HAD to see this original and fortunately he sent me a copy!  I was so excited to see this film that I could practically burst!

When the film begins, you might also think this South Korean film is a musical–as it begins with a weird hip-hop version of an old Herb Alpert song from the 1960s!  And, oddly, throughout the film there are a lot of odd American tunes–including one from the Partridge Family.  BUT, and this is important, it was NOT a musical–and this was very disappointing.  In the Miike film, there were dancing zombies and other wondrous musical delights.  But none of this is in The Quiet Family.  I could live with this…though I missed the zombies.  But what I couldn’t believe was that this dark comedy really wasn’t all that funny.  Yes, it had an original idea but it clearly did NOT make the most of it.  Miike and his writers clearly were able to transform a rather average comedy into gold–and often that meant significantly changing the original script.

Like the remake, the film is about a family that owns a small hotel in the middle of nowhere.  Because of this, their business is failing–as the long-promised new highway has yet to be built and they have no customers for the longest time.  Then, out of the blue, comes the first customer and the family is ecstatic.  However, when they check on their guest the next morning, they find that the man had killed himself in the room…and he’d used his room key to do the deed!  Fearing that this awful exposure would kill any chance at making the business a success, they decide to bury the body.  Guess what happens with the hotel’s next guests?  Yep…they die as well.  And, since they’ve already buried one guest, burying a couple more won’t be so bad…right?!

At this point, the plot of the two films are very, very similar–though the deaths of the guests in The Quiet Family aren’t really that funny–but they sure are in The Happiness of the Katakuris.  This sort of trend continues through the film, as often the South Korean film fails to capitalize on potentially darkly funny situations.  Additionally, the film makes a huge mistake later–it does not keep the viewer liking the innocent family who just want to make a go of their new business.  Instead, some of the family members are pretty awful and so loses its charm and slowly fizzles.  While The Quiet Family is not a bad film, it is a definite disappointment considering that I first saw the PERFECT remake.

The bottom line is that this is just a very rare case of a film where the remake is much, much better–funnier and actually much more original because of all the insane things they interject into the old plot.  In fact, this makes me think about an interesting idea for another article or a list–remakes that actually are much better than the originals.  Off the top of my head, I think a list like this would be very, very small, as I almost always prefer the originals unless there is a serious flaw in it.  In the case of The Quiet Family, there were several serious flaws.  If you have any suggestions of other films where the remakes are better, please send your suggestions my way–I’d appreciate your input.

by Martin Hafer